Lyndhurst’s Colonial Diner: More than Disco Fries

Last May my wife, Julie, requested we “do lunch” as a date to celebrate Mother’s Day. Somewhat surprisingly (because diners typically are not her first choice for a lunch outing), she picked the Colonial Diner in Lyndhurst as our destination because, during her recent travels, its sparkling, silver and crimson roof had “caught her eye.”

Colonial Diner, Michael Gabriele, Jersey Bites
Owner Georgia Gremanis, left, with customer and friend, George.

Georgia Gremanis, who owns and operates the diner with her family, was in a jovial mood and good spirits as she waited on us, demonstrating her mischievous sense of humor. “Are you ready to order?” she asked. “I’m ready,” I declared, straightening my shoulders. “Ah, men are always ready,” she quipped, waving her hand as if to flag her more-than-obvious double entendre. As we talked, there was a pleasant surprise; Georgia smiled when her good friend and loyal customer George arrived with a floral arrangement for her.

The place buzzed with the sounds of a convivial lunchtime crowd. Platters sailed efficiently from kitchen to tables. But only one thing was missing: Gus.

Two years ago Augustus (Gus) Gremanis passed away, at age 74. Georgia confessed that she and her family dearly miss him. The two were married for 46 years. By all accounts, Gus was a warm, compassionate man. He also was an accomplished, hard-working veteran of the Jersey diner scene. Born in Andros, Greece, he was a co-owner of the old Kless Diner in Irvington during the 1970s. Gus and the family bought the Colonial Diner in 1985 and spent years building up a loyal clientele in southern Bergen County and beyond. During the last five years, they expanded and renovated the diner.

Amid the cheerful background chatter and syncopated clinking of plates, cups and silverware, Georgia paused and revealed her feelings. We were honored to share “the moment” with her. “What are you going to do?” she said with a sigh and melancholy smile, referring to her beloved husband. “The only thing we can do is keep on going.” We expressed our condolences and praised her courage and determination to carry on. She regrouped, took our orders and once again flashed her charming smile.

We enjoyed a delicious meal and superb coffee. Julie ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon. I started off with a cup of Manhattan clam chowder and sprung for a daily special: shrimp salad on a roll with bacon, avocado, fresh spinach, and tomato slices. Just couldn’t resist five of my faves stuffed into one delightful sandwich. Every bite was a treat, a rich blend of textures and flavors. Blueberry crumb pie with vanilla ice cream and sea salt caramel syrup was the topper for the meal; a bit indulgent for sure, but certainly appropriate for the occasion.

Shrimp salad, Colonial Diner, Michael Gabriele, Jersey Bites
Shrimp salad on a roll with bacon, avocado, fresh spinach, and tomato slices

In recent years this reporter has visited the diner a handful of times for lunch and breakfast. Each meal was well prepared and on target, with good vibrations coming from the cordial, courteous wait staff.

The menu is extensive, much as you would expect from a solid, well-established Jersey hash house. Along with the multitude of breakfast offerings (eggs, pancakes, waffles and French toast), lunch and dinner choices include broiled and fried seafood; meatloaf; beef, chicken, and ham roasts; hot open sandwiches; burgers; triple decker clubs; wraps and panini; and numerous salad options. The Cobb salad, with bacon, grilled chicken, avocado, sliced egg, and blue cheese dressing certainly sounds like a selection worth exploring.

The Colonial, which opened nearly 70 years ago, is a vintage, stainless steel beauty—built and installed by the long-gone Mountain View Dining Car Company, which operated a small factory on the Newark/Pompton Turnpike (Route 23) in the Singac section of Little Falls. The diner displays the signature Mountain View exterior design feature: pointed, “cow-catcher” corners. The bright interior is highlighted by a long, spacious counter and round swivel stools, along with stainless steel wall panels and decorative tile. The grand, glistening roof with its many abstract angles is, quite literally, the eye-catching crown of the Colonial.

Founded in 1939 by Les Daniels and Henry Strys, Mountain View was a prolific manufacturer—an estimated 500-plus diner cars. The company’s marketing slogan touted its design and production expertise: “A Mountain View diner will last forever.” By the mid-1950s, a downturn in the diner market forced the company to close up shop and go out of business.

There are at least two Mountain View-built diners on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places: the 29 Diner in Fairfax, VA; and Davies’ Chuck Wagon Diner in Lakewood, CO.

Closer to home, following Route 206 north, and not far from the Milford/Montague Toll Bridge that spans the Delaware River, an extra-large Mountain View (the Village Diner) is located in Milford, PA. Another Mountain View in the Keystone State, a stone’s throw from Lake Wallenpaupack, is the Hawley Diner. Within the confines of New Jersey, the Pink Cadillac Diner in Wildwood, the Key City Diner in Phillipsburg, and the diminutive 54 Diner in the tiny burb of Buena are three other roadside eateries that carry the Mountain View brand.

Gus no doubt would be pleased to know that his Colonial Diner on Orient Way is in good hands and, fortunately for diner fans, courageously “keeps on going.” Amen.

Michael Gabriele is the author of The History of Diners in New Jersey, published in 2013 by The History Press.

The Colonial Diner
27 Orient Way